Meme – 5

     They got out of the car and approached the clinic. Several middle-aged ladies – including Mrs. Howe – and a local preacher were circling around, holding protest signs and singing hymns, ready to pounce on any female daring to enter the clinic. On one side was a teenager, evidently capturing the event on video. Harry and Helen started towards the door and the protestors converged on them, calling down hellfire and brimstone. Harry stopped in front of Mrs. Howe and eyed her coldly. “Hello, Grace. I see you’re up to your usual bullshit. Thought you’d be tired of it by now.”

     Grace Howe bristled and puffed her self up even more than her usual haughty state. “I will never tire of doing the Lord’s work, protecting the unborn from the baby killers. And people like you,” she added, with a glance a Helen, who promptly gave her the finger.

     Harry smiled and deep inside him a door was unbarred. “Tell me Grace, do all of your friends here know you had an abortion when you were 18?”


     Grace Howe stopped in her tracks like he’d dropped a load of bricks on her head. She staggered back two paces and plopped down on bench. “Why, who, what, how?” she sputtered. Her face got beet-red and she started breathing so heavily Harry was afraid she was about to have a heart attack. He thought of asking Helen to have one of the doctors from the clinic come out, but Grace seemed to be weathering the storm, surrounded by her solicitous companions.

     “What have you done?” shouted the preacher. “Mrs. Howe is one of our most respected members! She’s a deaconess, for heaven’s sake. A true Christian lady! She would never consider abortion under any circumstance!”

     “And she’s a full-blown hypocrite.” Harry replied. “Ask her. Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, 1960. She was 18 and a councilor at a summer camp. A little hanky-panky down by the lake, and voila! She knew what would happen if she came home in that condition. Her father was a preacher like you and a bigot to boot. And the baby’s father was Mexican. So she aborted, and denial has fit in well with her snobbish upbringing and pretensions ever since.”

     He noticed the teenager was beside himself with excitement and zooming in on himself and on Mrs. Howe. He’d initially thought the boy was part of the protest group, but evidently not. He reached into a pocket and extracted a business card which he passed to Helen as he whispered something to her. She nodded and went over to talk to the boy. Harry turned to Mrs Howe and the protestors. “I know for a fact that Grace Howe isn’t the only hypocrite among you. You not only oppose abortion, you oppose contraceptives and counseling, but some of you use birth control yourselves. So I will say what your Good Reverend should say, but won’t: ‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her – John 8:7′. And as long as we’re being biblical, you might check Matthew 7:1 and Luke 12:2. The world is about to discover that in this day and age, privacy is a thing of the past. And it starts here. With you.” He smiled sweetly, then turned on his heel and headed back toward his car, with Helen at his side, giggling.


Meme – 4

     Only one thing wrong with this big fancy house of yours.”

     “What’s that?’ Harry asked.

     “The air conditioning is too damn cold! “. Helen sat up and gathered her robe around her. She cast a critical eye at him. “Eighty? You don’t look bad for eighty. Course, I’ve only got old Pete-The-Skinny-Wino for comparison. “

     “Thanks, I think. I take it Pete-The-Skinny-Wino is an old friend of yours?”

     “Friend, yes. He’s actually only 68 but he looks older than you.”

     “That’s what a hard life does to people, I guess. For someone who lived like you’ve been living, you’ve managed to keep yourself in wonderful shape.” He reached out and pulled back her robe, unwilling to let the lovemaking pass.

     She laughed. “Enough for now, you dirty old man. Next time will be in bed, where I won’t freeze my ass off.” She looked at him softly. “It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”

     Harry nodded. “Too long, too long. But we have something to do today. It’s Wednesday.” He reached for his clothes.

     “What’s special about Wednesday?” Helen asked.

     “You’ll see. This particular Wednesday will forever be known in Doman, NY as the day Mrs. Howe’s world collapsed. Now you’d better get dressed, unless you want to become a nudist. That might actually fit in well with my future plans – no concealment , let it all hang out. Or down, as the case may be.”

     With a deep chuckle, Helen headed down the hall to find something to wear.

     Harry realized how much he had missed having a woman around. Not just for sex, but simply because he liked women and found the way their minds worked a stimulus to his own thinking. He hoped she would stay.


     Harry parked about a block before the Women’s Clinic. “When’s the last time you had a physical? Mammogram? PAP test?”

     Helen shrugged. “Ages ago. When you’re trying to survive, you don’t have time for luxuries. Besides, under those conditions, increasing my life expectancy didn’t seem like doing myself any favors.”

     Harry smiled. “Helen, I like you. For one thing, you’re honest. Maybe it’s because you have nothing to lose, but I think that’s just part of who you are. I’d really like it if you decided to live with me. “ There. He’d said it and couldn’t take it back.

     “And you like to fuck me, too, eh?”

     “That too, but I hope I don’t disillusion you by saying that’s not the main reason for my wanting you around. Fact is. you’re good for me in several ways. You motivate me to get off my ass and do what I should have started doing ten year ago. If you decide to leave, I’ll understand and do what I can to help you on your way. I’ll miss you, but I won’t try to stop you doing what you feel you have to do.” He looked at her expectantly, only to see tears running down her cheeks.

     “Harry, Harry, I like you too. It’s just the first time in 30 years someone has wanted me for anything besides my cunt.” She wiped her eyes and looked up at him. “I’’ll stay with you. I’ll stay as long as you want me to and I’ll do whatever I can to help you. But I don’t want to marry you. Do you understand that?”

     “I think so. I wasn’t thinking of marriage, really. Besides, given my intentions to tell the world to go take a Flying Fuck, living together out of wedlock would be more appropriate.”

     She laughed. “It’s a deal! And between thumbing our noses at the world, we still get to screw now and then. Now, why are we here today?”

     “Ah,” Harry said. “Down the street is the Women’s Clinic. Full range of health services for women – yearly physicals, specialists as needed, contraception, mammograms, Ob/Gyn, abortion. And every Wednesday the local Fundamentalists get off their fundaments and parade around outside. They are opposed to contraception, although to my personal knowledge several practice it and none are out there adopting the byproducts of unwanted pregnancies. They are naturally very opposed to abortion, believing devoutly that the unborn are more important than the mothers – and all too happy to disclaim responsibility and support for babies once they’re born. And just like with contraception, there’s a fair amount of hypocrisy involved. I’m going to expose some of that today. Come on.”


Winds West – 5

     Well, dinner was over and nobody had seemed inclined to complain or had a bellyache, so she guessed it had gone alright. The minister and his wife had exclaimed over it, especially the ice cream and pies. Mr. Langdon seemed pleased and complimented her right in front of everyone. The children seemed proud of her, although she couldn’t for the life of her figure out why. The young man, whose name turned out to be Ryle Tate, was polite in a formal sort of way. He certainly didn’t say or do anything to give offence, but she admitted to herself she was a trifle miffed he hadn’t been more enthusiastic.

     She told herself she wasn’t setting her cap for him. Why, then, did it bother her what he said or didn’t say? Wryly, she acknowledged her interest had been piqued. There was something standoffish about him and she was curious to get behind that wall of social courtesy and polite conversation and find out who he really was. One thing was sure – she wouldn’t get far playing coquette. He was a serious young man, with more depth than most his age. He would want an equally serious woman. Though it would be a shame if he were so somber all the time. With a bit of a shock, she realized she had not heard him laugh at all, even when the children were joking or the minister and Mr. Langdon were swapping tall tales. He smiled from time to time, but he had not laughed. She began to feel sorry for him. That, she told herself, is your first mistake, thinking a man has some secret sorrow you can find and cure. Time to get back to reality, put the dreams away for the day. Time to do the dishes.

     With the kitchen tidied up, she wandered into the parlor, but all was neat and dusted, nothing to be done. For the first time all day, she had idle time on her hands and she began to relax and savor it. She moved to the window to catch a cooling breeze and began to leaf through one of Mr. Langdon’s gazettes. Mr. Langdon and the guests were sitting on the veranda, talking about this and that.

     “How is the Woods girl working out, John? I know you had your doubts before you hired her.”

     “She’s been fine, Reverend. You’re right about my having had doubts. I couldn’t see how anyone her age would be able to take care of my home and children, but she’s taken hold. Done everything I’ve asked and done it well. Even the children don’t seem to resent her. I was afraid they would compare her to their mother, which wouldn’t be fair to Liza. I think it made it easier that she didn’t try to replace Martha, just be helpful and concerned for them.”

     “Well,” said the minister’s wife, “I suppose she had good practice in her own home. She’s had to tend to her own brother and sisters since her mother died. Of course, she comes of good stock, pioneers. Her family was here before the Flood. But I was surprised at how much she knows about cooking and managing a home. The house is neat and clean, the dinner was very good and the children look happy. Even you, John, look a bit more portly than the last time I saw you.”

     Mr. Langdon laughed. “Yes. I loved Martha greatly, but frankly Liza’s a better cook than Martha ever was, God rest her soul. Very intelligent too. Reads to the children every night, then reads to herself, the good books. We will miss Liza when she finally decides to leave us.”

     “Is she thinking of leaving,” asked the minister?

     “I haven’t heard her say so in so many words,” Mr. Langdon replied, “but I can’t keep her here forever and wouldn’t want to. She has her own life to live and someday she’ll decide to go live it. When she wants to leave, I won’t stand in her way. Maybe I can even help her along a bit.”

     “You’re a good Christian, John,” the minister’s wife said. “And you’re right. In a couple of years or so she’ll take the eye of some young buck and you’ll be looking for a new housekeeper.”

      “Maybe she has already,” said her husband. “Ryle here seemed to be spending a lot of time and trouble avoiding looking at her. Is she so unattractive then?”

     Liza had been considering moving away from the window, telling herself it wasn’t polite to eavesdrop on folks. Now, however, she felt her feet glued to the floor and she couldn’t have moved if it came Judgement Day. She was more than a little interested in what young Ryle had to say. Had he really being avoiding looking at her? If she’d known that, she would have found ways to tweak his nose a bit, just for fun.

     “Oh, I saw her well enough, Uncle. You might say she’s the only one I saw today. She’s really very pretty, yet that’s not what struck me after the first glance. You’re right, Aunt Maude. She is more grown up than her years. You know, after church I looked over all those young ladies and she was the only one who seemed grown up. They all tried to flirt – properly, of course – except her. And you say she’s only thirteen? Remarkably serious, she seemed. Does she ever laugh? I’d like to make her laugh, somehow.”

     What a turnabout, thought Liza! He thinks I’m a somber old woman and I think he’s a gloomy young man and we both want to change each other! But maybe I’m as wrong about him as he is about me. Wouldn’t that be a joke! She inched closer to the window and told herself it really wasn’t her fault if she happened to be in the parlor when they happened to be discussing her.

     “Unfortunately, I doubt if I’ll get the chance to know her very well. I’m back to Colorado day after tomorrow.”

     “I wish you could stay longer, Ryle,” the minister said. “Since we moved out here from Buffalo, you’re the only family we’ve had visit us. Your mother and I were very close and you’re almost like a son to Maude and me.”

     “Thank you, Uncle. You both know how I feel about you two. But I’ve some money saved up and I know a nice little ranch that the owner will sell at a bargain – he’s got gold fever and is itching to get back to prospecting. That’s all I want, to raise cattle and children in some of the most beautiful country on Earth.”

     “You may raise cattle, but you won’t raise many children by yourself,” Aunt Maude said slyly. “Seems to me you’ll need a woman somewhere along the way.”

     “Yes, but I want to make the ranch a going concern before I ask any woman to share it. I couldn’t ask anyone to live in a sod hut, cook over an open fire and not have any nice things for the years it will take to make the ranch pay. Maybe then I’ll go looking. If she’s still unmarried, maybe I’ll look around here.”

     Humph! How like a man, thought Liza. Any woman worth her salt wouldn’t mind at all, as long as she was with her man, building something for their future. Her own grandparents had migrated to Ohio when it was considered wilderness. They fought the Indians, cleared the forests and raised corn, beans and children. It wasn’t til they were nearly eighty that they lived in a place that didn’t have a dirt floor. And they swore they liked their old log cabin better.


Blind Pig – 5

    “Good evening, Mr. Coombes. The usual? And would the lady like a drink before dinner?” Lisa asked for a strawberry daiquiri and the waiter departed.

     “The usual? You must come in here a lot,” she said.

     “Sometimes,” he shrugged. “Sometimes I eat Mexican or Italian. Tonight I’m in the mood for steak and shrimp.”

     “Sounds good to me,” Lisa said. “Don’t you ever eat at home?”

     He laughed. “Home is where I sleep and drink coffee. And write. I can’t boil water without burning it.”

     “Must be nice to eat out every night. I can’t afford it.”

     “What would you be eating if you were home now,” Alan asked.

     “Probably leftover salad and eggrolls. Whatever the fridge turns up. I’m afraid I’m not much of a cook either.”

     “Then we’ll have to eat out every night, I guess.”

     “I guess so,” she replied. He evidently assumed they were now a couple. To her surprise, she did not mind at all. How did that happen? They were really not much more than casual acquaintances. Now being with him seemed natural, as if they had known each other for years. “Does this mean your intentions are honorable?”

     He laughed. “Serious at least. Honorable depends on your point of view.”

     “You want my body, eh?”

     “Among other things. I have a sneaking suspicion I could fall in love with you very easily. Why not give it a chance?”

     Lisa looked him in the eye. Yes, she thought, why not? He’s far removed from the Force, he’s intelligent, as honest as most men ever are. Why not? And rather handsome, she reminded herself. With a little shiver, she realized she was going to go to bed with him that night and the thought brought up the mix of fear and desire she always experienced on such occasions. Well, he was certainly different from her usual dates. She wondered what kind of a lover he would be.

     Alan had surprised himself with his assumption that they would become lovers and was even more surprised by her acquiescence. He thought she must be lonely a lot. It wasn’t easy being a beautiful woman in New York, with all the guys hitting on you. Probably been twisted by lots of bad times and paranoid about every new man she met. He wondered what kind of lover she would be.


Winds West – 4

    When the closing hymn started, Liza raised her voice along with the rest, but she hoped the Lord would forgive her mind being elsewhere. Guiltily, she was running over what she had to get done after church was finished. First, she must get the younger children out of their Sunday finery and make sure the older ones were kept busy at something that wouldn’t ruin their clothes…no tree-climbing, no exploring the barn with the neighbor children. Then she had to finish preparing Sunday dinner, including baking rolls and a couple of pies, as well as roasting a pair of chickens and fixing the vegetables. If they had enough cream left, she might put the younger ones to making ice cream. This dinner had to be special, since the minister and his wife were coming and bringing a guest. Mr. Langdon was easy enough to please and preferred to live simply, but he set great store by entertaining properly and would want everything just right.

    She had been there three weeks and he seemed satisfied with her work, but he wasn’t a very talkative person and she could never tell what he was really thinking. She thought that must be the difference between kin and strangers. With kinfolk, you had shared so much living you could almost read each others’ minds, but a stranger was an unopened book. Some looked to be so boring you didn’t want to bother, while others might be exciting or interesting. The young man the minister was bringing to dinner, for example.

     Liza glanced over at him now. He couldn’t be more than about twenty-two, but somehow he had a more grown-up look than many of the men twice his age. She watched him as he glanced around the congregation, seeming to look for something he couldn’t find. He had more assurance than the other young men, who seemed to have so much trouble avoiding blushing when they accidentally caught the eye of one of the young ladies. She saw Johnny Wilson making calf’s-eyes at her from the end of the pew. It was as close as he had dared approach her since he had announced that he was going West. He had great dreams of getting rich in the silver or gold mines and Liza had figured prominently in those dreams. While she sympathized with him, he wasn’t her idea of a husband. Perhaps she was too choosy, but she wasn’t ready yet to give up her own dreams. Besides, she told herself, thirteen is a trifle young to marry. She wouldn’t consider herself an old maid until, say, the ripe old age of seventeen.

     The minister was closing the service and people were beginning to stir about, collecting their wits and children. Mr. Langdon led his family up the aisle and Liza trailed along behind. Outside, the grownups mingled with friends while the younger children stared at each other tongue-tied. The older boys whooped and yelled and ran around, trying to find some way to impress the girls, who studiously ignored them.

     Liza wondered what caused these boys and girls to suddenly one day become adults and change their whole way of behaving. It must be something to do with falling in love, although she found this hard to believe. She had once been in love with a boy for a whole week and he with her for a month, but it hadn’t changed either of them that she could tell, except to make them act silly. A voice out of nowhere asked why she seemed so different from the other girls her age, but she shook off the question unanswered. That young visitor now. He might be a different story. She saw several of the eligible young ladies casting sheeps-eyes at him. He looked straight at them, rather casually, as if they were part of the landscape. Then his eyes would drift away, looking for something else. She reckoned she would find out more about him at dinner. She gathered the younger Langdons, leaving the older ones to accompany their father, and began to walk back to the Langdon home.


Blind Pig – 4

     Alan Coombes was wondering the same thing. He eyed the pile of manuscripts stacked on the desk. Always claimed you could write the Great American Novel if you could devote yourself to it 100%, didn’t you? Well, now you can. Live a long time on that money and just write and write and write.

     Faced with the reality of a dream coming true, he laughed softly. Be careful what you wish for – you might get it, he thought. Well, plenty of time to consider that later. For now, he had to finish Chapter Five of his latest novel. The writers’ group was meeting tomorrow night. It was in composing Chapter Five that an idea came to him and he stopped in mid-word and beamed. He glanced at the closet where the moneybag lay and smiled, then returned to the writing with renewed zest. He would do something about the money later.

     Detective Lisa Bogar closed the file and dropped it into a folder in her desk. Shit, this was going to be like looking for a needle in a haystack! The killer could be anyone, anyone at all. She was becoming obsessed with the case. Maybe she’d drop by the writers’ workshop tonight. Most of them were amateurs who would never amount to much, but they were interesting and at least it was a break from her normal routine.

      She smiled to herself. She knew she had a reputation in the department as a hard-nosed, no-nonsense detective. It had to be that way, because being over-zealous was one way to keep the sex thing from getting to her. The other way was being the Division Karate Champ. But nobody knew about the other side of her personality. They probably thought she spent her spare time reading department regulations. They would certainly never suspect her of being a closet poet and bohemian. Never really know people, she thought. You only see one side of them, at work, or at a poetry reading, whatever. Never know the other side of their lives. For all she knew, even Horny Werner could be a ballet dancer on his own time. She giggled at the thought.

     She went to the locker room and changed into civvies, tight black jeans and a tee shirt, baggy vest and boat shoes. She undid the bun and brushed out her hair. After a glance in the mirror, she picked up her bag and sauntered out, bound for the Blue Quail Cafe.

“The sea-slick landscape, oil-bled and gray
Goes slapping gently at the piers each day.
The sturdy wood must think it can withstand
The water’s formless, weak and splashing hand.
So we laugh at all the blows of life,
Because the world is so inept at strife.
The piers forget the water’s strongest trait;
Although the wood rots slow, the sea can wait.”

     It was fitting for her mood, Lisa thought, as polite murmurs went around the table. “Great, good imagery, Lisa, kinda scary, etcetera, etcetera and so forth.” The only listener who hadn’t commented on her poem was Alan. He looked at her over his coffee mug and did not smile. It irked her a little. He was probably the closest the group had to a professional writer. At least he was trying seriously. Was his silence a negative comment?

     “How about it, Alan,” she said. She cursed herself mentally for caring about his opinion. As a cop, she was completely self-confident, but as a poet she felt very insecure, maybe because she allowed herself to be vulnerable in ways a cop couldn’t be vulnerable.

     Alan peered at her over his glasses. They made him look almost fatherly, she thought, bringing fleeting images of her own father, sitting mindless in the nursing home, dreaming of the past.

     “The poem? It’s fine, Lisa, very succinct.” He leaned across the table. “What I was considering was why someone as young and beautiful as you would be thinking such dreary thoughts.”

     She shrugged. “I guess we all have bad days. Sometimes even I get depressed. Don’t you?”

     “Depressed? No, not really,” he said. “I just get bewildered a lot. And lonely sometimes.”

     Playing for sympathy, she thought. Probably hopes to get in my pants that way. Fat chance!

     He smiled at her, as if reading her mind. “No, Lisa. I like you, but it isn’t because I’m lonely. When I feel lonely, I don’t want company. I get into myself until I stop feeling that way.”

     Perceptive, she thought, dangerously so, then cursed herself. She was still being cautious, a wary cop. The whole point in being part of this scene was to get away from that, be a normal, vulnerable human being for a few hours. To let herself be a woman, she thought. She smiled in acknowledgment and began to consider him seriously. “Let’s get out of here. Have you eaten? I’m starved.”

     Alan grinned. “I was hoping for something like that. Come on. Let’s go over to the Derby. I’ll buy.”

     “I pay my own way, Alan. No strings.”

     “No strings, Lisa. Never. Unless we want them.”

     She smiled. “And you can read me the latest chapter of the Great American Novel.”

     “Fair enough. At least you’ll appreciate it.” He lifted his manuscript and got up.

     Lisa was surprised. “You want my opinion? I always thought you were pretty self-sufficient, immune to criticism.”

     “No one is immune, Lisa. To anything.” He held the door open and followed her into the night.


Cockleburs of Memory

The Cockleburs of Memory pop up again:

A friend sent me an email today, quoting an Opinion from The Spectator, in which the writer was bemoaning that NYC is not what it was in his younger days. My response to her email was:

A blend of truth and I’m-getting-old-and-the-world-is-going-to-Hell-in-a-handcart, which they’ve found scratched on the walls in Pompeii.
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